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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkEditorials | Opinions 

What ‘Isaac’ Has To Say: Immigration Reform and Why the Future is Inescapable
email this pageprint this pageemail usMark Alvarez - PVNN
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November 05, 2010



Eleven million undocumented immigrants live in the United States. Approximately one hundred thousand live in Utah. On Election Day, I spoke with one, a man in his early thirties. Let’s call him “Isaac.”

Inflexible immigration laws and discriminatory attitudes more appropriate in pre-Fourteenth Amendment times hold everybody back. The industrious and enterprising nature of undocumented immigrants could serve the economy.
Isaac made comments that many undocumented immigrants would relate to. He wondered if anyone cared. Isaac’s observations are in quotation marks:

“Many people are applying for work but getting rejected because of E-verify [a voluntary federal employment verification program made mandatory by state law in mid-2010].” Undocumented immigrants have worked hard in Utah construction, hospitality and agriculture. Many do hard, dangerous jobs that most of us would not want. Quick, hard changes in the law slap them in the face.

“People have less money to spend because of the new law. This is causing a decline in sales at supermarkets and small businesses. This hurts the economy.” Between 3 and 4 percent of the Utah population is undocumented. It is a young population that makes up a significant consumer and producer base of the state. It is not going away no matter how ugly we make our laws.

“Many people would like to start businesses, but they don’t know how. Also, it is hard to get a business license because you need to put down a social security number. A lot of people are resorting to subterranean businesses [—informal ones without registration or license].” Driving people into underground economies does not serve Utah well. Inflexible immigration laws and discriminatory attitudes more appropriate in pre-Fourteenth Amendment times hold everybody back. The industrious and enterprising nature of undocumented immigrants could serve the economy.

Isaac indicated that it is very hard to cross the border today. “My friend has tried to cross the border between [the Mexican state of] Sonora and Arizona. La Migra [The Border Patrol] has stopped this person four times during the past month.” Isaac’s friend plans to keep trying. There is no way for him to come here legally, but he knows his work is needed.

“Pollero” is Spanish for “immigrant smuggler.” Isaac’s friend paid a pollero $2,700 for help in crossing a route that required several days of walking through the desert. Easier crossings can cost $5,000 or more without any guarantee of success. Five years ago, Isaac paid a pollero $1,500.

While the politics of immigration have turned nasty, anti-immigrant champion Tom Tancredo lost by a wide margin in the Colorado governor’s race. Sharon Angle lost the race in Nevada for U.S. Senate because of overwhelming Latino turnout for Harry Reid. While Jan Brewer won the Arizona governor’s race, the political expectancy of anti-immigrant crusaders is shortening.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric today verges on the anti-Latino. It’s little different from past rhetoric that has targeted the Chinese, Irish, German, Greek, Italian and other immigrant groups. This free expression is ignorant and unintelligent.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (“DREAM Act”) would grant provisional immigration status to some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before age 16, lived in the U.S. for 5 consecutive years, had good moral character and were 35 years or younger before enactment of the new law. A beneficiary would also have to study at the university level or serve in the U.S. military.

The military provision disturbs me, but an undocumented student or DREAMer at the University of Utah gained my support with these words, “We, the DREAMers, want this for our brothers, our sisters and ourselves. Leaders need to do more to encourage people to stay in school so that the military route is less appealing.”

Touché.

The future belongs to those who strive upward.

Mark Alvarez has written numerous guest commentaries for the Salt Lake Tribune and other popular papers. He currently resides in Mexico City. Contact him at alvarez_mark2004(at)yahoo.com.



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